The Seventh NAREA Winter Conference

On a beautiful sunny day in South Miami, over 250 participants from five countries, 18 states, 2 U.S. territories, and 5 provinces came together for the Seventh NAREA Winter Conference. The conference was held in collaboration with Reggio Children and the Florida Reggio Collaborative for the Rights of Children. Deanna Margini, pedagogista and Francesca Manfredi, atelierista from Reggio Emilia, Italy were the featured speakers over the course of the three days. Held in a two-story open loft in the Shops at Sunset Place, the conference venue was a reflection of the Miami hosts’ creativity and strong community ties. The organization and offerings on the first day incorporated a variety of styles and ways of being together. NAREA board co-chairs, Barbara Acton and Margie Cooper, launched the conference with a warm welcome to the participants and the featured speakers. Margie Cooper shared, “We have so many nervous feelings about meeting you and meeting your expectations but we always feel so calm … when we are in a beautiful city in a community that is working tirelessly to invest in education. We feel even calmer when we have colleagues and friends from Reggio Emilia with us because for many years, we have noticed how much educators who work everyday in schools in North America feel revived, connected, inspired, and motivated when we listen to the 50 years of research and education taking place in Reggio Emilia.” Barbara Acton continued, “We share a warm welcome and affection for all of you who have joined us here today … because of the image of the child you hold in your hearts, your role as educators, and your commitment to the future.” Simonetta Cittadini-Medina, the local host, expanded the welcome, “We wanted to bring you who we are in terms of community, culture, fashion, and in terms of voice … this is a present to you.” Participants and speakers were surprised and delighted when Sergio, a journalist, photographer, and musician; Paolo, a parent and musician; and Alejandra, a teacher and singer, shared images and music representing the local blended culture.  With the dynamic opening concluded, the conference was turned over to the featured speakers, Deanna and Francesca, and the participants. The first day consisted of plenary sessions with the speakers, which gave historic accounts of the Reggio Emilia municipal educational project and focused on the values of the Reggio Emilia approach with an emphasis on documentation and social justice. The session was entitled “Education is a Right and Quality as its Fundamental Condition: Identity and Aims of the Reggio Emilia Approach and its Principles and Values.” Deanna and Francesca continued with a session entitled “Documentation as a Process of Building Knowledge in a Learning and Democratic Community.” This session was focused on collaborative research projects of children, educators, and parents in Reggio Emilia. As was typical of each of the three days, the speakers asked for a collection of questions and comments, which they addressed throughout the three days.   The afternoon continued with Deanna and Francesca sharing a presentation on the exhibit, “The Wonder of Learning – The Hundred Languages of Children.” Participants could choose to encounter the exhibit, to participate in conversations for those new to the study of the Reggio Emilia approach with Lella Gandini and Karyn Callahan, or to join Deanna and Francesca in dialogue with participants who had encountered the exhibit multiple times. The presentation on the morning of the second day offered a deep investment in thinking together about “The Hundred Languages of Children Seen as Essential Connections with Various Forms of Creative and Cognitive Thinking.” The two-part presentation was followed by an afternoon of school visits. Six schools opened their doors and welcomed groups of 50 educators and advocates for dialogue and exchange. Each group had an opportunity to visit two schools while on the bus route. In addition, the schools graciously stayed open for extended hours so anyone wishing to visit could provide their own transportation and see additional schools.                                                On the last day together, Barbara Acton reminded us, “It’s so important within our local contexts to think about this idea of making our children and families visible. I hope that after your experience here, you’ll have a sense of place, of where you are, unique to children and families.”  During the morning session, Deanna established the focus for the day, “This morning, we are going to tackle the theme of educational research and professional development, which is a theme that is very important and very dear to our hearts in the Reggio experience. What do we mean by research in the daily experience of the infant-toddler center and preschools? Often when we talk about research, it’s in the context of academics or experimental. But our way of thinking about research is to interpret it in a practical way in our everyday life and experiences with the children.” After the presentation entitled “Educational Research and Professional Development: An Existential, Ethical Approach Necessary for Interpreting the Complexity of Life and Educational Experiences,” Deanna and Francesca joined the participants for a celebratory lunch and school visit at L’Atelier Preschool. A calypso band and tables laden with food made by parents and friends greeted the educators. Participants took advantage of the time to eat and get to know each other a little better. It was a time to celebrate together a movement of people actively advancing early childhood education. After the celebration, participants returned to the conference venue. The final presentation by Deanna and Francesca focused on “Participation and Citizenship: A Responsible Life Condition for Children, Educators, and Parents Who Share Educational Experiences.” Francesca shared the work related to a public installation, designed by the children, for the scaffolding at the market hall in Reggio Emilia as well the questions they considered throughout the project, “As adults, we paused and read again to children and decided with colleagues how to proceed. Do we adhere to the initial ideas of children or do we go deeper to search for meaning?”  The final offering from the Reggio speakers was the video “Planetary Messages” in which the children offer their positive messages to the city and to the world. When introducing the video, Deanna said, “We conclude with the children, the heart of our work. Without them, we would not be here together.” It was a special moment as participants heard from the children of Reggio about their thoughts on peace and wishes for a world filled with possibilities. It was with joy and gratefulness that we welcomed our colleagues from Reggio Emilia, Italy, Deanna Margini and Francesca Manfredi. We extend our deep gratitude to the educators and families from L’Atelier Preschool, La Scuola, KLA Brickell, KLA Coral Gables, Bottega Community Child Development Center, and Kinder House for all they have done to organize and host the conference. It was inspiring to witness the participation of over 250 educators and advocates who value and respect the rights of children and who work to convey the significance of this new image of early childhood education during the three days of the Seventh NAREA Winter Conference. We believe the words of participants reflect our collective thoughts:   The overall conference was spectacular. It was very worthwhile, and I left feeling so energized about the process.  The conference was wonderful. I really think the conference gave us the opportunity to continue to think more about the work we do every day with the children, families, and teachers.   I think the conference was a huge success in integrating the research ideas from leaders across the globe.   I would like to express my gratitude for giving me the opportunity to participate in this conference and having the chance to face internationally renowned scholars in the field and learn from their contributions. The keynote speeches were stunning and other talks were inspiring, too.  This was an enriching experience for me. The conference was excellent and inspiring. The videos of the projects and the reflections about each experience gave us the opportunity to understand the fundamentals of the philosophy in a clear and deeper way.  The conference was a wonderful opportunity to network with other educators across the country that are Reggio inspired. The conference also provided the audience with a wealth of enriching glimpses of the Reggio Emilia schools and their context of engagement between the children, parents, and the community. The conference gave participants time to listen and reflect upon your own values and context. The presenters were amazing in bringing to life their context that opens up thoughts for what’s possible.  As usual, the content from NAREA conferences remains invaluable for professional growth and continued efforts to raise the bar for children’s environments and learning.  
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